Being in the vicinity of both Washington and first place, the Boston Red Sox are in perfect position now to resume torturing their followers in this city, many of whom went to Harvard or like to give that impression. What shape the suffering will take always is a mystery, but why happy Hub endings ceased forever in 1918 finally has been documented.
In a gothic horror story too gory for Stephen King, the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy has collected every bit of coincidence and damaged aorta into an autopsy report entitled, "The Curse of the Bambino." The villain is Harry Frazee, proprietor of a perennial baseball champion who preferred Broadway musicals. The victims include Johnny Pesky, Denny Galehouse, Calvin Schiraldi and all of the orthodox fans who have made a wailing wall out of a left field fence.
In 1912, the Titanic went down. Two days later, Fenway Park went up. (Shaughnessy does not believe in accidental timing.) Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919, driving the Red Sox customers to drink. Within two weeks, Prohibition was declared.
Since Ruth was sacrificed to "No, No, Nanette," the Yankees have won 22 world championships to Boston's none. It seems a Big Apple is mixed up in most original sins. Adjacent to the Black Sox scandal, Ruth's curse also may have encompassed Chicago. In their current delirium, South Siders ought to realize that no team from Boston or Chicago -- let alone with the surname "Sox" -- has won a World Series since Ruth's Red Sox beat the Cubs in 1918.
While the Babe was fizzing up the '20s with home run records (11 of his 60 in 1927 came off Red Sox pitching), Boston was trying to live down a necklace of last-place finishes that climaxed when pitcher Clarence "Climax" Blethen bit himself on the behind sliding into second base. His false teeth were stored in a back pocket.
Frazee died of Bright's disease at the end of the decade. A different affliction gripped the Red Sox into the '40s. Then, just when the team was getting good again, World War II broke out.
During the last year of the war, awaiting the return of Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams, Boston gave Jackie Robinson and two other black players a tryout to placate a liberal city councilman who might have challenged Sunday baseball. The Red Sox were so impressed with Robinson that, 14 years later, they hired Pumpsie Green. In the meantime, they also passed on Willie Mays.
Three days after the Robinson audition, player-manager Joe Cronin wrecked his right leg rounding a base in Yankee Stadium. But the real payoff came the following season in the first of four World Series Boston would lose in seven games.
Dom DiMaggio's simple charley horse started a confusing chain reaction that culminated with Pesky holding the ball in the infield as the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter scored from first on the moral equivalent of a single.
A couple of years later, the Red Sox had a one-game playoff against Cleveland for the pennant. Inexplicably, manager Joe McCarthy selected creaky Denny Galehouse to pitch it, and the Indians took their first flag since Ruth's opening year with the Yankees. Galehouse never won another game.
The following season, Boston had to take just one of two closers with the Yankees. Both were debacles. At the decisive moment of the second game, right fielder Al Zarilla strained for a shoetop catch and exploded all the blood vessels in one limb, hospitalizing himself and his city.
The '50s were punctuated with individual horrors. The sudden death of local hero Harry Agganis. Jimmy Piersall's mental illness. Jackie Jensen's fear of flying. When spitting at the fans wasn't enough for Williams, he whipped his bat into the stands. Naturally, it conked Cronin's housekeeper.
By 1967, the Red Sox sought only to be heroic losers. By 1975, that fascination waned. To signal dismay with his own fielders, Bill Lee threw a "do-your-best" curve ball to Cincinnati's Tony Perez, practically the only breaking-ball hitter in the National League. Lee remembers, as the seventh game wore on, "how the fans got progressively and progressively quieter."
For the following All-Star Game, manager Darrell Johnson stayed at Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel along with a convention of American Legionnaires. Many died of a mysterious disease. In 1978, the Red Sox began the season at spring training seeing high-wire walker Karl Wallenda fall to his death outside their hotel. They ended it at home watching Bucky Dent round the bases in the 163rd game of the year.
In a perfect Boston epilogue, the manager of the '78 team, Don Zimmer, finding himself a Yankee coach five years later, rented Dent's New Jersey apartment for the summer. Zimmer closed his eyes every night on a portrait of that homer hanging on the bedroom door.
Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, looking up from the Roman conclave, muttered: "We just lost a Pope, and now we lose to the Yankees." A bartender spoke for the rest of New England: "They killed our fathers and now the SOBs are coming to get us."
The Red Sox polished off the town in 1986, one out from the world title, when any of 13 pitches could have finished the New York Mets and none did. Years before in Mississippi, minor league roomates Kevin Mitchell and Calvin Schiraldi had day-dreamed of the moment. How would Schiraldi pitch to Mitchell if it meant everything? Well, he would bust him inside and then throw a slider away. Schiraldi did, and Mitchell remembered.
Bill Buckner, Boston's first base wicket for all time, happened to have been the Dodgers left fielder who couldn't reach Henry Aaron's 715th home run. In other words, he was never one of Ruth's favorites.